I have a writing assignment with a generous deadline. For this year’s Write on the Sound writers’ conference in Edmonds, Washington, October 1-2, I need to create a work of short fiction, creative nonfiction, or a poem on the topic of “What I Know Now.”
I think I’ll choose the fiction option, as the nonfiction option puts me up against the likes of Oprah—not that she’ll be attending WOTS, but well-written essays about “What I Know (Now, for Sure, etc.) abound. This is not one of them.
What do I know, now that I’ve reached my fifties? Most of it would just echo Oprah’s insights. I doubt the judges would be impressed by my advice to listen to their bodies, keep a journal, eat veggies with every meal, stop wasting food, be selective when considering which (if any) trends to follow, and do something creative every day. We all know that stuff, right?
“What I Know Now” requires a backward glance to what I didn’t know then. Having worked with teenagers for so many years has provided a better understanding of my own youth. Poor teenaged Rhonda thought she knew quite a lot about how to achieve the good life, but she didn’t know diddly-squat. Know-it-all teens are usually covering up deep insecurities; I sure was.
I didn’t know that my racehorse metabolism was a temporary gift from God, not something I’d earned. I get about the same amount of exercise now as then, but I’m sure not as slim as I was at twenty, even without the Friday-night binges with my army roommate—Doritos and Lambrusco. Blech!
I didn’t know that attracting boys/men would never be a problem. I mean, they’re guys. If you’re reasonably attractive, open and friendly, you’ll catch the eye of several potential partners. If this one doesn’t work out, the next one might, or the one after him. Back then, I was worried that my small boobs would prevent me from finding true love. Having met so many non-standard beauties with devoted mates, I know that we can blithely ignore the beauty industry’s strictures about must-have’s and must-do’s. Beauty comes in many flavors.
I didn’t know how to listen and learn from others’ experience. I could have saved myself a lot of heartache and frustration if I’d heeded the advice from the many wise older women I met back then. One piece that really stuck was uttered by a Southern lady I worked with: “Honey, ever’body has something to teach you, even if it’s how not to be.” So true. Now I pay attention to the wisdom of others, written and spoken. Teachers abound.
I didn’t know that most of life’s problems have complicated causes, and that everything is connected. As a young woman, I believed in simple solutions. Honey, ain’t no simple solutions. I now know, for example, that my bulging belly has to do with age, hormones, posture, my gut biome, my favorite (alas, far too sedentary) activities, heredity… There’s no pill, no diet, no one panacea that will suck in this belly o’ mine, and the answer lies somewhere between acceptance and vigilance.
It’s all about balance. That’s what I know now. Life is a balancing act—difficult to achieve, but with practice you reach that point where balance becomes automatic. You’re aware of so many factors that could blow you off-balance, but you breathe into your center, open your arms and your heart, and find that place where balance feels effortless. Work and play, together and alone, indulgence and discipline, serious and silly, a well-lived life requires balance. That’s what I know.
Now, if I can just think up a short story that illustrates that lesson.